web analytics

Archive | Keeping the Faith

All That Once Was Good

by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

“Pitchers and Catchers report!” It’s as sure a sign of the coming spring as erupting dandelions. Yes, the return of baseball is a bellwether of warmer days, even if baseball itself should expect a somewhat chilly reception these days.

Critics say the games are too long and tedious. Smart, run-scoring strategy has been replaced by brutish free-swinging for the cheap seats, say baseball’s purists. And don’t even get tongues wagging about that Yankee third baseman.

For my own part, I’ve had a suspicion about the game for some time. After the players’ strike of the mid 1990s I lost faith. The more recent scandals involving performance enhancing drugs and the obscene amounts of money paid to mere mortals for throwing and striking a rawhide ball have done nothing to reclaim my confidence. And have you taken your kids to a game lately? To park, $30. For tickets, $75, $60 for sodas and snacks. And forget the souvenirs. I can’t swing that kind of cash.

What makes all of this so difficult to take is the fact that some of my fondest memories center on baseball. Some of my fondest memories were also made at church; in the little “church in the wildwood” of my formative years.

The pew bottoms were made of wooden slats that creaked and groaned during the service, pinching this little boy’s behind and picking holes in my mother’s pantyhose. On August nights I can recall the fiery summer revivals in that old house of worship – fiery in preaching and temperature – as I struggled to understand all that was going on.

Was this church “better” than what I have experienced as an adult? Probably not. Was it simpler, more sincere? Probably so. Major League Baseball and much of the church in America have arrived at the same place. Both are more driven by market and commercial forces than by a true sense of what they are. We are all the worse for it.

Terence Mann in “Field of Dreams,” may have captured the sentiment best. Standing in that enchanted cornfield-turned-baseball-diamond, he says, “They’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon…along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes…This field, this game: it’s a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good; and it could be again.” May it be so.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

More than Words

by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

Frederick and Elizabeth Noble got married on New Year’s Day, 1941. It was World War 2 and Frederick was on a 48-hour leave from his British Tank Regiment. Between military assignments, Frederick took time to write love letters and send telegrams back to Elizabeth; hundreds of them. Mostly he wrote about home and how much he missed his new bride.

Finally, Frederick did make it home, and rarely did he leave Elizabeth’s side again. The two settled in the English countryside and raised a large, beautiful family. After both had died, their children opened a tea chest that contained almost every love letter Frederick and Elizabeth had ever exchanged. Many were from the war years, but some were exchanged late in life, while the couple was in their 90s.

Yet, the collection, in and of itself, is unremarkable. What gives the collection power, is what gives all such things their power: The love that brought them into being, for each word was driven by devotion. Every sentence was constructed with affection. Each paragraph served as a confession of a love stronger than death. Indeed, Frederick and Elizabeth both died just days apart. Love had truly made the two, one.

Have you ever received such a love letter? Do you have a collection of such words, words motivated by adoration, words from your beloved? Actually, you do. It’s that best-selling book of all time; that leather-bound volume shoved into the nightstand drawer or sitting ragged and dog-eared on the kitchen table. Or if you prefer, it’s downloaded as an app on your mobile device. It’s the Bible, and yes, it is a love letter written to you.

“A love letter? I thought the Bible was a book of religious laws, full of condemnation, genocide, hard to pronounce surnames, and the occasional children’s story. Isn’t it just a bunch of words?”

Might you look deeper, for the Bible is a powerful thing, enlivened by God’s Spirit and constructed by divine affection? “For God so loved the world,” the familiar text says, “that he gave his only begotten Son.” That’s a summary of the whole, forever shattering the concept that the Bible is just a collection of printed pages.

No, it is a love story; a love letter. It is a doorway to experience Christ, the Christ who genuinely loves us – more than mere words – the Christ who just couldn’t live without us.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

Like a rock

by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

This year Bob Seger will celebrate his tenth anniversary in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His songs and persona are legendary. My personal Seger favorite is “Like a Rock,” and it has nothing to do with Chevrolet pickup trucks. I associate the lyrics with the evening of my high school graduation: “I stood there boldly, sweatin’ in the sun, felt like a million, felt like number one; the height of summer, I’d never felt that strong, like a rock.” And then the refrain, a refrain Seger wrote about himself as a younger man: “Like a rock, I was strong as I could be; like a rock, nothin’ ever got to me; like a rock, I was something to see; like a rock.”

Seger captures the years of youth, perfectly. It is a time of unbridled optimism, strength, and arrogance. A young person can do anything, be anything, try anything, and overcome anything. No challenge is too big, too tough, or too much. Honestly, youngsters need this kind of bravado and audacity when life is just getting started. But he or she will also learn that do-everything, dare-anybody, defy-anything of youthfulness, doesn’t last.

We live a little while and experience a few disappointments. We bury loved ones, suffer loss and betrayal, age, have our hearts broken, or muddle through a couple decades of muted frustration. Then we learn, and this learning is as absolutely necessary as youthful strength, that we really aren’t like a rock—at least not anymore. Life, like erosion, has a way of reducing the hardest stone into sand.

But the recognition that we won’t always be “standin’ arrow straight, chargin’ from the gate, and carryin’ the weight,” is not cause for despair. It is liberation. It is deliverance from the “try-harder-and-do-more” life. It is release from the totalitarian, gladiator ethic of “If it’s going to be, it is up to me.” It is surrender, and surrender is where life begins.

“If you try to hang on to your life,” Jesus said, “then you will lose it.” This “hanging on” includes our personal arrogance and stubborn self-reliance. We learn to let these go, not because we have hopelessly given up, but because we have given over. We have exchanged our failing abilities and life for the power of God and his life. We have learned to live a life entrusted to the Rock that is Christ.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me

 

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

Turn down the “Stinking Thinking”

by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

It is a word of affirmation, comfort, agreement, and relief. It is a word that completes vows, promises, blessings, and all of our prayers. It is a word of release, signaling the end of far too lengthy worship services; and it is the “Get ready…Get set…Go!” when we have gathered around the dinner table to eat. The word, of course, is “Amen.”

At its most basic definition “Amen” means, “Let it be.” Thus, when we say “Amen” at the conclusion of our prayers, we are not saying, “the end.” We are actually beginning, for we are confirming and confessing our trust in the God to whom we have just prayed. We are saying “Yes” to God’s perspective, and we are saying “No” to all other perspectives. Every “Amen” becomes an argument to convince ourselves, over and over again, that God knows us best and knows what is best for us.

And speaking of “God knows,” God knows we tend to argue with ourselves. We have these conversations with ourselves that some have learned to call, “Stinking Thinking.” We create these stories inside our heads about how we have failed; how ashamed we should be; how unworthy we are; how utterly useless our lifework has been; how we are a lousy father, mother, parent, or whatever. I’m convinced that many people can’t be quiet and can’t still their minds because they can’t bear what they say to themselves in the quiet moments.

They have to keep the volume of life turned up to ear-bleeding levels and keep the pace of life at breakneck speed. These people aren’t busy; they are suffering. They are attempting to smother the voices in their heads, because a majority of the time the self-guided narrative to which they are listening is erroneous, untrue, and downright destructive.

This, then, is one of the great benefits of prayer: People who pray are reprogramming their software. They are overwriting the faulty components of their thinking. They are experiencing the transformation of their hearts and minds, for in learning to listen to God’s voice in prayer they can turn down the cacophony of voices around them. And yes, these other voices include the “Stinking Thinking” inside their own heads.

Such praying may not get one everything he or she asks for, but such praying may lead one to getting what he or she needs. To that, I must say, “Amen.”

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me. 

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

You Will Be Free

by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

Before and during the US Civil War, tens of thousands of slaves made their way out of slavery on what was nicknamed the Underground Railroad. It was a secret escape from the Deep South. The slaves were assisted by people known as “conductors,” who transported their precious cargo by clandestine means, all the dangerous miles to freedom. And it was Ms. Harriet Tubman who was the greatest single conductor in the history of the Underground Railroad.

An escaped slave herself, Tubman was responsible for leading nearly a thousand people to freedom. And though she journeyed deep into slave territories many times with a huge bounty on her head, she was never caught. She said, “I did something most train conductors can’t never say. I never run my train off the track and I never lost a passenger.” She credited her success to two things. First, she believed she was protected by God. And second, once a slave came into her custody, no matter how afraid or demoralized that person might become, she never let them return to their chains. She would say to them, with all the resolve her five-foot frame could muster, “You will be free…or you will die.”

This has been the motto of freedom fighters from Harriet Tubman and Patrick Henry to William Wallace and Nelson Mandela. Of course, who can think of freedom without hearing the iconic words of Dr. King: “When we let freedom ring…we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children…will be able to join hands and sing, ‘Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.’”

Freedom is God’s intention for all of his children; for all people. What God has lovingly planned and what Jesus has dramatically accomplished is far more than a change in the human perspective; it is an actual change of status. It is more than the alleviation of the feeling of hopelessness; it is the alleviation of actual hopelessness. It is not psychosomatic therapy; it is actual rescue from slavery, in all its varied forms—spiritual, emotional, psychological, and physical. All aspects of captivity are eradicated in the liberty of Christ. In the elegant words of Placide Cappeau, “Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother; and in his name all oppression shall cease.” Put more bluntly, “You will be free.” May it be so.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me. 

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

Choose the future

by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

Last year, after years of internal deliberation, Boston’s Old South Congregational Church finally decided to sell one of its hymnals. This was no ordinary hymnal. It was printed in 1640—one of the first books produced in North America. When Sotheby’s auctioned the hymnal a few weeks ago it brought a sum of $14.2 million, a new record for a printed book. But that astronomical sum did not free the church from controversy.

On one side were the church historians and those members of the congregation who felt they had to preserve the church’s history and legacy. On the other side were Pastor Nancy Taylor, the majority of the leadership, and those who felt that faithful stewardship demanded that the resources of the church not be preserved but repurposed to continue ministry.

I watched this story unfold for over a year, and was sympathetic to both sides until I heard the church historian say that the church had two of these exceptional books and if one was sold, “You would never be able to hold one in each hand ever again.” Of course, he had to admit that holding them was not really practical—they are much too fragile for that.

One thoughtful woman in the church said, “I have two young sons, and looking forward I want my sons to learn that it’s not about objects. We can take those objects from the past and turn them into fuel for tomorrow.”

What an applicable lesson for us all. As one year ends and another begins, a profound choice is put before every person: Will we hold on to the past – preserving, protecting, and perpetuating it – even when doing so becomes much more work than it is worth? Or will we use the past, its gore and its glory, as fuel for the future?

I am certain that a church older than the Constitution, old enough to have baptized the infant Benjamin Franklin, and solid enough to withstand everything three centuries has thrown at it, will indeed weather this current situation.

I just hope that the resources from the past will get put to today’s use, and not be locked away in a vault or collect interest in some obscene-sized endowment. I hope the same for all of us. Let’s not make life a museum built to what used to be, but a mission to bring about what can be.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

Let It Be

by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

For the longest time I thought a “Hail Mary” was a desperate, last-ditch throw at the end of a football game. Having been raised in one of the more contrary factions of Protestantism, you can’t blame me.

Well, all these years later, I understand why some find the “Hail Mary,” or Ave Maria, so gripping. “Hail Mary, full of grace. Our Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus,” comes straight from the Christmas text of Luke. It is Gabriel’s announcement that Mary will give birth to the Christ child, the Son of God.

Luke’s emphasis is not on her virginity, however, it is on her capitulation. Mary’s response to her miraculous motherhood is an act of complete surrender, as she says to Gabriel, “Let it be done to me according to your word.” Let it be: Where have we heard those words before?

The song “Let it Be” was written by Paul McCartney at a difficult time: The Beatles were on the skids, suffering from their success, and Paul was lost, drunk, and confused. Feeling this misery, he longed for the comfort of his mother—her name was Mary—who had died when he was 14.

It was during this time that Paul’s mother came to him in a dream, he says. And she said to him, “Paul, let it be.” McCartney awoke, went to the piano, and wrote the now classic song: “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me…There will be an answer, let it be.”

When Mary—the mother of Jesus, not the mother of Paul—said, “Let it be,” she wasn’t despairing of life. She was receiving the way of God for her life. She was admitting that her designs for living would be set aside so that God’s design for her life would come to fruition. Hers, like McCartney’s, was a song of surrender. It was a song of submission to a higher and better way.

Now, this sounds like losing, like we are giving up, but we lose nothing. We gain everything. By accepting how the world actually is, accepting who we really are, and accepting what God wants for us, we move forward with peace. We collapse into the strength and will of the Almighty. To confess such a thing is to indeed be full of grace.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

All means All

by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

 

“We three kings of Orient are.” So begins a favorite carol of the Advent season about the “Wise Men” who visit the newborn Jesus. And so begins a tale that takes inaccuracy and historical revisionism to a whole new level.

First, we don’t know how many kings there were. There could have been as few as two and up to almost any number. Second, they were not “kings” from the Orient. They were, put more accurately, Magi. The Magi were astronomers – primitive by today’s standards – who were on the cutting edge of scientific and philosophical knowledge in their day. Such men called Persia home (modern day Iran), not the Far East.

Third, these men did not find the Christ child while “following yonder star.” They saw the star “in the East” or “at the rising of the sun,” but then proceeded west to Palestine. The star did not reappear until they were already in Bethlehem. And finally, the Magi, technically, do not belong in the Nativity scene at all. They were latecomers to the Christmas party, maybe as late as Jesus’ second birthday.

Still, “We Three Kings” remains one of my favorite Holiday hymns to bellow out this time of year, for the journey of the Magi is a fascinating exercise in unexpected faith. They came seeking the child who had been born king of the Jews, based almost entirely on the appearance of an enigmatic star.

While history is rampant with explanations for this phenomena, one conclusion is certain: The Magi interpreted this unusual sign in the heavens as a clear communication that something extraordinary had taken place in the world. And even more extraordinary, these Persian sages applied their interpretation to the emergence of Jesus, the Jewish Messiah.

Why so astonishing? Not many people would launch out on a dangerous journey based solely on a spiritual hunch. Not many people would put their life on hold to prove their mystical intuitions true. And not many Persians (today’s Iranians) would worship at the feet (or manger) of a Jew.

Yet, in God’s way, these all belonged together. Divisions of race, religion, nationality or ethnicity did not factor into the equation. This is a foreshadowing of the Apostle Paul’s words: “You are all the same in Christ Jesus.” All are welcome into the presence of the One who will “reconcile everything – all things in heaven and on earth to himself.”

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author. His newest book is “The Gospel According to Waffle House.” You can read more at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

Never Left Hanging

by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

 

There is a story told a hundred different ways but with the same punch line: A man falls off a cliff, and just before plunging to his death, grabs hold of the skinniest of tree branches. For the moment he is alive, but hanging thousands of feet above the ground. Stuck as he is, and with no one else to call upon, he looks heavenward and prays: “Dear God! Please help me!”

A thunderous but calming voice answers from heaven: “Okay, my son, let go and I will catch you.” The man thinks about this offer for a moment and answers: “Thanks…but is there anyone else up there who can help me?”

Sometimes – on rare and unusual occasions – God intervenes. He speaks. He acts. And when he does, it often results in more trepidation than if he had remained silent. Think of Moses, barefoot at the burning bush; Jacob in a surprise wrestling match with God’s Angel; Saul, blind and blathering on the Damascus road.

Advent, which begins this week, is no exception. God speaks – God arrives – and the world is shattered. Shepherds quake. Angels sing. Awe-inspired Magi bow. Mary trembles. Joseph, a stunned carpenter, probably wonders if someone “else up there” could deliver him from the delivery of this child.

What was it all about? All of these characters were asked to “leap” from their perches and believe that the swaddling-wrapped-manger-for-a-crib baby is indeed the Promised One of God. Are we not asked to believe the same; that God has spoken and is speaking? Yes, when one speaks of “hearing God’s voice,” it might be time to call the paddy wagon. Great lunacies have been committed by individuals convinced that they were on a divine mission. Some of these insanities have crossed over into atrocity.

But to hear God speak, deep within our hearts, is not necessarily a sign of mental illness. It can be (like finding Jesus’s image in a bag of cheese puffs or an icon of the Virgin Mary on the back of a piece of raisin toast at the Waffle House). It can also be a manipulative way to dupe the spiritually naïve (or sell a pile of books during the holiday season).

Yet, on rare and unusual occasions, God intervenes with a voice booming in our hearts, and we are called to exercise ruthless trust. But, he is trustworthy, and will never leave us hanging.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me. 

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off

Never submit

by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

One of my sons has a motto by which he attempts to live his life. It is: “Never submit.” I can attest that he practices this maxim rigorously, and it serves him well in many situations, giving him grit and determination. But at the point that he cannot impose his demands upon people and situations, bending these to his liking (and he reaches this point routinely), then “Never Submit” leads to a dark and dangerous place.

Nevertheless, my boy is at least speaking the truth, because this is precisely how many of us live. We refuse to submit—not to authority, the rules, or a way of life that would make our days lighter, easier, and healthier—and not even to God. This shows up, most noticeably, when we pray.

Prayer, if you haven’t detected it for yourself, can be very self-centered. We approach God, not with a view of letting go of ourselves, to receive and live the life he has for us. We approach God with the mantra, “Never Submit.” Our prayers are scripturally-laced ransom letters, demanding the Almighty to do things our way; to meet us where we are; to comply with our plans.

Such an attitude is not unlike the act of checking into a luxurious penthouse. We want something to eat, so room service is called and the kitchen goes into full operational mode to bring us whatever we want. Our favorite shirt is dirty. No problem, send for the maid. She will quickly take it to the laundry and return it before dinner.

Do you need a cab? Ring the bell; the concierge lives to serve you. Not enough clean towels? Want your bed made twice a day? Need an extra chocolate on your pillow at bedtime? It’s easy-peasy: Pick up the phone and the management will be happy to attend to your every whim and impulse.

Does prayer really work this way? I don’t think so. Prayer is not a method for getting everything we want. Rather, it is the means by which we surrender to what God wants. It is an act of acquiescence; the letting go of our resolve, exchanged for God’s. It is not pulling God to ourselves, to our will, or to our way of seeing and doing things. It is compliance to the intentions of God, as he pulls our lives in his direction. It is submission, always.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, pastor, and author of multiple books. You can read more and receive regular e-columns in your inbox at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

Posted in Keeping the FaithComments Off